THE NEW YORK TIMES, FRIDAY, AUGUST 25, 1995
Busch Replaces Female Lead
The faux is loose in the hencoop at the Blue Angel, where Charles Busch, that past master of the Hollywood pastiche, has stepped into the role of Marian Ames, the mistress of ceremonies of the female troupe that is the oversized heart and songful soul of “Swingtime Canteen.”
From snood to sandal straps, the role is tailor-made for Mr. Busch. Little wonder. The drag diva, who replaced Alison Fraser, is, after all, one of the co-writers (with Linda Thorsen Bond and William Repicci) of this exuberant excursion back to the days of World War II. As writer and star, Mr. Busch has previously tapped Hollywood’s B-movie lode for such kitsch-and-tell exercises as “The Lady in Question” and “Red Scare on Sunset.”
So while an occasional bomb blast may rattle the premises, no figurative minefields menace Mr. Busch as he goes over the top as the hammy over-the-hill MGM star leading a U.S.O. troupe into the war zones (the women bring their own battlefields with them) to entertain the G.I.’s in 1944.
As the moment demands, Mr. Busch as the grande dame preens, minces, sashays, bats eyes, tosses off the most winningly treacly of smiles, and with reckless abandon drops names of dear, dear friends (Joan Crawford, Loretta Young, Jeannette MacDonald, Cole Porter). He has a way with songs like “You’ll Never Know” and lines like “We’re in a war, ladies, and we’ve got to win.” And he carries the proper heft and authority to whip his charges into line when their sniping at one another threatens to upstage the war. Best of all, Mr. Busch conveys just the right impression of sending himself up along with everything else.
Not to be overlooked in this show, directed by Mr. Busch’s longtime collaborator Kenneth Elliott, are the excellent actors, singers and musicians who surround Mr. Busch, notably Jackie Sanders, Marcy McGuigan and Debra Barsha, and the succulent lineup of some 30 songs, from “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Don’t Fence Me In” to “Swinging on a Star” and “Daddy.”
War may be hell, but at “Swingtime Canteen” it’s still a lot of fun.
Book by Linda Thorsen Bond, William Repicci and Charles Busch. Directed by Kenneth Elliott; choreography by Barry McNabb. Sets by B. T. Whitehill; costumes by Robert Mackintosh; Mr. Busch’s wigs by Elizabeth Katherine Carr; lighting by Michael Lincoln; sound by Fox and Perla; arrangements and orchestrations, Bob McDowell; musical direction and supervision, Lawrence Yurman; special material, Dick Gallagher. Presented by Mr. Repicci and Michael Minichiello, in association with Ken Jillson, Robert Massimi and Patricia Greenwald. At the Blue Angel, 323 West 44th Street, Clinton.
WITH: Charles Busch, Debra Barsha, Emily Mikesell, Marcy McGuigan and Jackie Sanders.